Changing Labor Dynamics and the Future of Technology

US based companies continue to grapple with labor costs and scarce skills.  This challenge does not seem to be abating but rather accelerating.  US workforce population is also aging now averaging 42.6 years old in 2012 as opposed to 36 in 1992.  The knowledge these workers accumulate over a lifetime can be difficult to replace.  The resources to replace them are increasing in cost and scarcity.  While the most recent quarter showed an increase in productivity, US productivity has been flat to declining over the previous several quarters.  The challenge of today’s leaders is managing decreasing productivity and higher cost with a skilled labor shortage in the most disruptive time since the steam engine.

The knowledge worker is critical and we have used automation as a key tool to reduce costs and increase their productivity.  Compute power has been deployed liberally with great gains.  Outsourcing has been another strategy but much of what can be outsourced has and some of that labor has returned to the US to improve service.  There is a technology shift from on-premises to Cloud, PaaS, and SaaS.  Leading companies have executed these strategies already.  The search for productivity and cost reduction must begin elsewhere. The knowledge has to be preserved, the costs lowered, and the performance increased.  Better, Faster, and Cheaper – Possible?  It is time for a new approach leveraging new technologies.

The next inflection point of technology is now in the Singularity phase of Big Bang Evolution (Larry Downes and Paul Nunes, 2014, Big Bang Disruption, HBR).  Cognitive Computing is coming of age.  IBM’s Watson is a key player in this evolution but numerous upstarts may initiate the Big Bang phase of cognitive computing.  The technology will mature faster than any other technology has before, however the deployment of this technology will be as challenging as ERP deployments.

Business leaders are experimenting with cognitive technologies such as Attensity’s Natural Language Processing engine.  Insurance fraud costs the industry billions every year.  Detecting fraud requires a human to read and interpret claim documents leveraging years of experience.  However, only a fraction of claims are even reviewed due to the unstructured text that constitutes them and barely 10% of fraud is detected.  The analysts who do this work use their years of experience but are nearing retirement.  An inefficient process that is losing the knowledge  Imagine hiring enough resources to read every document included in every auto insurance claim an insurer processes.  This would be financially impossible and too time consuming.  But what if a machine could read them all?  What if it could capture the knowledge of these highly experienced resources?  What if it, working with a human, could learn and become more accurate?  This is the future of knowledge work: Highly experienced workers preparing for retirement training technology to do their job alongside an operator.  Think Kroger self-checkout as a conceptual example.

Leaders across industries realize that the next inflection point in business is cognitive computing.  This will be a merger of people, process, and technology that will have a lasting impact on cost and productivity in areas of business you cannot imagine.  It is time to think Lean Agile Start-up: develop your hypothesis, conduct your tests, and identify how your company will benefit from this step function improvement in productivity.

Industry leaders are seeing the future of this technology.  Tests are being conducted.  Technologies are maturing.  Begin learning more about this rapidly growing space and planning how you will leverage it.  This is the next strategic inflection point in technology and it will change everything.

#CognitiveComputing #Disruption #FrankDiana #NextGen

Feedback

Do your teams talk to each other?  Do they help coach each other?  Why not?  Building a culture to thrive in this era of rapid disruption requires high performing teams and Feedback is a critical tool.  Oddly, sales teams tend to not act as teams as often and sometimes struggle to embrace team based feedback.

Lean-Agile has gained wide support as a methodology for innovation, product development, and adding shared language and process to projects of all types.  The process is easy enough to understand.  The shared language enables team to quickly orient.  Easy enough right?Lean Agile

Agile has invaded the sales methodology.  The language and process map well to a selling effort.  But the Feedback step is one of the most valuable and often overlooked.

People like to learn and gain experience.  Typically this is a function of general information and facts.  Reading, conferences, one directional education that comes from parties who are not judging our performance.  People tend to shy away from performance review and direct feedback on a team or individual’s performance.  Why is this?  A lack of trust.  Corporate culture and how feedback impacts career track or income.  Perceived bias. People don’t like to review bad news.  And they definitely don’t want to feel blamed.

When selling and marketing teams embrace a ‘teaming’ culture they begin to leverage each other to increase performance.  Team members need strong relationships and respect the roles and performances of others.  They need to become open to learning from other’s successful processes and missed opportunities they may have.

Back to feedback.  Team analysis/review of a successful or failed sales process helps the entire team become more successful.  What worked?  What did not?  What assets were valuable?  Which were not?  How did the customer perceive the company, brand, resources?  Was the story well told?  What other possible outcomes could there have been and what should the team do different in the future to achieve them?  What modifications to assets would improve the selling process?  Who should we add or remove from a future process?  Let’s all play our respective roles better and be more successful.

In the past, most feedback has been a process conducted by managers.  But in the Lean Agile world it should be a team process.  The team is closest to the process and has the best insight.  The manager should act as a facilitator of the conversation and agent of change on behalf of the team.  However the solutions that are developed within the feedback session by the team should be theirs.

As teams take more ownership of the deals when they provide feedback on it’s performance and see change as a result.  This increases team engagement, increases success, and provides a better Customer Experience.

So take time to add Feedback sessions into your sales process.  Facilitate them and focus on the items, not the people.  And make change as a result.  This Employee Experience leads to highly engaged teams who are more successful.

Disruption or Normal?

One thing is for certain: Uncertainty.  I am sure the first farmer to employ a plow he dragged behind himself was sure the innovation would last forever.  Then oxen were tamed and the users of oxen for plowing were innovators who would dominate the future.  The steam engine was developed and the machine age began.  Then internal combustion engine all but put the steam engine out of existence.  Is the electric or hydrogen motor the engine of the future?

Interestingly, all of the above technologies are used in plowing fields around the world to this day.  Those who embraced innovations prospered more than those who did not.  Innovation continues to generate change throughout our world and have for some time.  Some will catch on while others will keep dragging a plow by hand.

So change is normal.  But historically the rate of change was slow.  Information that once took generations to disseminate now takes seconds.  Broad groups can share, embrace, and iterate on new ideas and concepts faster than ever before.  Strong innovators combine existing technologies with new technologies to yield new uses…well like the farmer who hooked a blow to an ox.

But the cycles are very fast yielding what some call the most transformatve period since the invention of the steam engine.  As the diagram below shows, social development spiked shortly after the steam engine and it will again as digital becomes pervasive.

World-Population-Development-Index

But what does all of this mean to businesses?  That old cultures and approaches are going to leave your plowing the field by hand until your fields are purchased by someone who embraced automation.  The speed of disruption has been enabled by key digital forces:

  • Social
  • Mobile
  • Cloud
  • Internet
  • Big Data/Analytics

You ability to master these forces and think differently may be the difference between rapid growth or rapid demise.  What would Sears be today if they had seen Amazon coming, embraced digital, and beat Amazon to the same day delivery punch?

Imagine the possibilities.  Think different.  Act with edge.  Disruption is now normal.  Use it to your advantage.